It’s difficult to know where to begin with A Taste for Honey (1941), the first of three ‘Mr. Mycroft’ novels by H.F. Heard. The core conceit is delightfully barmy — I shall avoid naming it in this review to preserve it for the curious — and played with an impressively straight face, but beyond that there’s really only a short story’s worth of content here, spread thinly over 189 generously-margined pages. With only one plot-line, only really three characters, and nothing to widen the universe or engage the mind in any meaningful way past the halfway point (when the ending will already be painfully obvious to anyone), this really is just a latter-day Holmes pastiche with verbal diarrhoea.
It was with tremendous excitement that I greeted the news of a third Mycroft Holmes novel from Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse, as the continuation of this series brings joy to my old and weary heart.
Three years ago, when The Invisible Event was but a callow youth, I happened upon a Sherlock Holmes-universe novel co-written by someone who shared their name with NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “Wow,” I thought, “that guy must hear the same thing all the time…” — and then it turned out that it actually was NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and, well, I became even more interested.
Had I gotten round to this sooner, it may have qualified as a Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat attempt, but TomCat has already read this one and so really all that remained was to see if I was equally underwhelmed by it.
Andrew Wilson’s first novel featuring Agatha Christie, A Talent for Murder (2017), met with positive reviews but seemed rather more Highsmithian than detection in concept (perhaps unsurprising, as Wilson has written a biography of Patricia Highsmith) and so I passed it over. And then John Norris — patron saint of the obscure, the forgotten, and the damned-near impossible-to-find — posted this rave review of the follow-up, A Different Kind of Evil (2018), and definitely caught my interest.
I shall eventually abandon any pretence that my occasional forays into post-1990 impossible crime novels are purely for the benefit of my fellow impossible crime enthusiast TomCat, but not just yet. So let’s all take a moment to bask in how selfless I am, reading books I have no interest in myself purely so that TC can find something more modern to satisfy the cravings of the Impossible Murder Phanatic (or ‘Imp’, as those people have definitely been calling themselves for years now).
When unpopular spinster Angela Pewsey is killed by a blow to the head — “the first time in many years that someone had done something in her vicinity about which she was not thoroughly informed” — following a spate of poison pen letters, it is met with quite spectacular disinterest by the other denizens of the small village of Inching Round. And, indeed, the attitude which solicitor Firth Prentice must confront when brought down from London to investigate (quite against his will) by the comely Celia Sim is that, frankly, most people would rather shake the murderer’s hand than see anyone hang for such a public-spirited act.
What the hell? This blog — preserve of the expired author, occupying as it does a dusty corner of the interwebs free from contemporary scrutiny — has now featured two living authors on consecutive weekends. Clearly I’m courting popularity. Next thing you know, there’ll be a guest post by Ed Sheeran [please note: I have no reason to believe a guest post by Ed Sheeran to be forthcoming]. And this one isn’t even an impossible crime. Where does this road lead? Rave reviews of Cozy Baking Mysteries? Who even am I any more?
The setup of The Poisoned Chocolates Case is rightly very famous: a lady is killed when a box of chocolates given to her husband by another member of his gentlemen’s club — who himself received them unsolicited through the mail — turns out to have been laced with poison. The police, with no culprit in sight, allow six amateurs with a fascination for real life crimes to theorise and present their own solutions, each one appearing watertight until someone finds a flaw that brings the edifice down. For this conceit alone, and the genius way Berkeley uses his different sleuths to unpick the sparse and simple known facts, this book has passed into near-legend in detective fiction circles.
Writing a decent novel of detection is difficult enough, as evinced by the fact that the form virtually died out by the 1960s, so taking the classic detective story and turning into a pastiche of itself is even harder again — it has to be both a story of crime and detection and a cunning vehicle for transcending the tropes thereof while simultaneously wallowing in them. Leo Bruce did this near-perfectly in Case for Three Detectives (1936) and a great many luminaries of the form dipped their toe into such conceits with aspects of their books, plots, or characterisation, but for a full-length novel to take this on successfully is something of a challenge that it would be beyond the abilities of most mortals.